Category Archives: Human Kindness

Righteous Anger or Inner Peace?

Peace on the mountain

Like many Americans, I am fearful for our country. I am angry—at the so-called president, at the people he’s choosing to fill his Cabinet, at his executive orders, at my fellow Americans who voted him into office—especially those I count among my friends and family.

Some anger is good, I think. Perhaps a little more righteous anger might have prevented a whole host of tragic historical events, from the Holocaust to that darkest period in American history that allowed an entire race to be enslaved.

At times I feel I need an anger translator—the kind comedians Key and Peele provided for President Obama—who will help me compartmentalize my emotions.

During the Christmas season, I was particularly angry at evangelical Christians, 81% of whom voted for a man who represents none of the values of Christ (as he demonstrated in his remarks at his first National Prayer Breakfast). I was so angry at those who share my faith that I wrote in a blog post,

Evangelicals don’t need the Baby Jesus this year.

They don’t even need the Jesus of the cross.

They need, above all, the righteously indignant Jesus who storms into a house of worship and knocks over every object in his path, his anger aimed squarely at the religious leaders of his time—all men.

But I also worry about what our anger is doing to us. Whenever I comment on social media in a way that seeks to understand the people I count among my friends, but who voted for Trump, I invariably get a storm of replies from liberal friends and acquaintances who are angry at me for not being angry enough.

At such times, I think of theologian Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian minister I admire. At one of the angriest times in my life, I printed out this passage from his book Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC and put it in a frame over my desk:

Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back—in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.

I ask myself on a daily basis these days how I can find a balance between righteous anger and inner peace. I want to make a difference. But I don’t want to become the skeleton at the feast.

Many wise people warn of the dangers of anger. The Dalai Lama, probably the world’s most well-known Buddhist, says this:

Whether we will be able to achieve world peace or not, we have no choice but to work toward that goal. If we allow love and compassion to be dominated by anger, we will sacrifice the best part of our human intelligence—wisdom, our ability to decide between right and wrong. Along with selfishness, anger is one of the most serious problems facing the world today. (How to See Yourself as You Really Are)

Literary giants, too, have warned us about anger:

Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured. (Mark Twain)

Angry people are not always wise. (Jane Austen)

Anger…it’s a paralyzing emotion…you can’t get anything done. People sort of think it’s an interesting, passionate, and igniting feeling—I don’t think it’s any of that—it’s helpless…it’s absence of control—and I need all of my skills, all of the control, all of my powers…and anger doesn’t provide any of that—I have no use for it whatsoever. (Toni Morrison)

As a Christian I remind myself that the Christ I seek to follow achieved that balance, though even he sometimes found it hard. The Gospel of Matthew describes him as so “grieved and agitated” that he went up on a mountain and threw himself on the ground to pray. The Gospel of Luke describes him as praying in such anguish that “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.” But when he came down from the mountain, he had found a divine peace that helped him hold on to love in the face of unspeakable hatred.

I have to remind myself that even Christ, in his lifetime on earth, did not achieve the justice he sought. But he never gave up his humanity. He never became like the religious leaders who hated him. He was never the skeleton at the feast.

Perhaps I, too, should take more opportunities to walk away from the madding crowd and find my way to the mountain to pray. I can’t stay away too long, but perhaps I’ll come back more ready to go on.

Love in the Time of Politics

new-familyA funny thing happened on the way to my daughter’s wedding. Well…we haven’t actually gotten there yet. The wedding isn’t until next weekend. But in the four years since she met her fiancé, they have changed the way I view the world.

Born to a Republican father who essentially got to vote twice because he told my mother how to vote, I revolted. I registered as a Democrat as soon as I turned eighteen, though I didn’t tell my father, a man who laughingly informed me that before he would give my husband his blessing, the man would have to sign a paper promising to vote Republican. When Nixon resigned in disgrace a few months after I registered to vote, I became convinced that Republicans represented all that was wrong with the world. Continue reading Love in the Time of Politics

Terror, Christianity, and Holy Week

Dark Sanctuary

Holy Week this year has much in common with that first Holy Week, over 2000 years ago, when Christ turned his followers’ attention toward the inevitable. His disciples had been filled with hope that he could change the world for the better. After all, they’d seen him turn water into wine, feed thousands with a few loaves and fishes, heal the sick with the touch of a hand, raise the dead with the power of his voice. Continue reading Terror, Christianity, and Holy Week

Who are the Dreamers?

Coates

Dear Mr. Coates:

As a child I, too, stood in the face of a brandished gun. Like you, “I recall it in the slowest motion, as though in a dream.” Like you, I did not tell my teachers, and I did not tell my friends.

I did not tell my parents. Because they were there. My mother, too, stared down the barrel of the gun—a gun wielded by my drunken father.

Like you I asked, “What was the exact problem? Who could know?” It’s taken me the better part of a lifetime to understand the demons that drove my father to hold the people he loved at gunpoint. Continue reading Who are the Dreamers?

Want the Best Teachers?

Ash & Mrs. Hacker

For a moment I was brimming with hope. In a rare occurrence, an article about education made the top headline in the online version of the Washington Post homepage today. This was a particularly striking event in light of other significant news this week—the Benghazi hearings, Hurricane Patricia, the death of an American serviceman in a fight against ISIS.

Continue reading Want the Best Teachers?

Pro-choice? Pro-life? Or Both?

Sonogram Cropped

My mother taught me that it was rude to say, “Shut up.” Later, as an English teacher, I taught my students to hear one another out. No version of “shut up” was acceptable in my classroom. But more and more, I feel like shouting, “SHUT UP!” to the people on the two extremes of the issues that face us.

From gun control to immigration to politics, we are mired in the muck because groups at the two extremes control the public discourse and make forward movement impossible. Continue reading Pro-choice? Pro-life? Or Both?

Is Christianity’s Future in Trouble?

FPC Lent

Drawn by the glow of the cross in the moonlight, I opened one of the glass doors at the back of the sanctuary. On Sunday mornings, the doors are closed at the beginning of each service to separate the sanctuary from the cheery chatter of those who attend other services but stay to catch up with friends. But on that evening, when I was there for a meeting in another wing of the church, the stillness of the sanctuary beckoned. I stood by the doors and felt a Presence in the soft moonlight.

I’ve thought of moments like that many times in the wake of the most recent Pew survey, as religious pundits grind their teeth and ponder how to draw millennials back to church. Continue reading Is Christianity’s Future in Trouble?

Lessons from a Temporary Disability?

Brace

Five more weeks to go. Seven weeks ago, after the orthopedic surgeon repaired the crushed plateau of my tibia, he wrote in giant letters for the nurses, “NWB left leg.” For those of you who don’t get the hospital shorthand, that means NON-WEIGHT BEARING…and not just for the time I was in the hospital. Dr. Golden and his residents reiterated it every time they came to my bedside, as they listened with infinite patience to my questions while I tried to absorb the fact that it would be months before I’d be able to log 10,000 steps a day on my pedometer again.  Somehow they seemed to find a balance between talking to me as if I were an intelligent person and reminding me of the magnitude of the injury, as if I might forget the brace that went from an inch above my ankle to within an inch or so of my crotch. “No weight on this leg for twelve weeks,” they repeated to me again and again. Continue reading Lessons from a Temporary Disability?

Does God Give Us More Than We Can Stand?

Get Well Cards

Religion is a human-made construct. Merriam-Webster defines it as “an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods.” In our quest to understand the nature of the universe and our place in it, we turn to others who are like-minded, decide together what we believe, and find strength and community among kindred spirits.

Faith and spirituality spring from within the human soul. In our quest to connect with the unseen Spirit that inhabits us all, we cling to what we believe. Sometimes, in our worst moments, we attack the validity of the beliefs of those who see God through a different human lens. And even in our best moments we are often confused by why anyone would believe what others believe.

Today’s post is the third in a series that explore what I think people misunderstand about the religion I’ve chosen to help me understand my own spirituality, my own place in the universe. I don’t pretend to be a theologian. These posts will simply offer my own thoughts and my own understanding as I’ve come to see God through Christianity—and, in particular, through Presbyterianism.

I invite you to respond—to help me understand what I might not about your own religious community and practices.

Part 3: “Does God give us more than we can stand?”

I’d been looking forward to spring break for weeks. My husband and I planned to spend Easter weekend with my sister, and then we would spend the rest of the week focusing on one another and on the things that are important to us. I packed up drafts of a book I’m working on with plans to get much of the editing done during our week at the beach.

But our plans took a detour outside the Life is Good store when my sister, who had knee replacement surgery a few months ago, tripped over a curb. I reached forward to steady her, and we both tumbled to the ground. She landed on the outside of my left knee, and a trip to the Outer Banks Hospital confirmed what we already knew—that my knee was badly broken and would require surgery to repair. My husband packed our things, which had only been unpacked the day before, while I sat in the back seat of the car in a leg brace among a sea of pillows.  Continue reading Does God Give Us More Than We Can Stand?

Misunderstandings about Your Religion? (Part 1)

Religion is a man-made construct. Merriam-Webster defines it as “an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods.” In our quest to understand the nature of the universe and our place in it, we turn to others who are like-minded, decide together what we believe, and find strength and community among kindred spirits.

Faith and spirituality spring from within the human soul. In our quest to connect with the unseen Spirit that inhabits us all, we cling to what we believe. Sometimes, in our worst moments, we attack the validity of the beliefs of those who see God through a different human lens. And even in our best moments we are often confused by why anyone would believe what others believe.

Today’s post is the first in a series that will explore what I think people misunderstand about the religion I’ve chosen to help me understand my own spirituality, my own place in the universe. I don’t pretend to be a theologian. These posts will simply offer my own thoughts and my own understanding as I’ve come to see God through Christianity—and, in particular, through Presbyterianism.

I invite you to respond—to help me understand what I might not about your own religious community and practices.

Part One: “Don’t they believe in predestination?”

Beckley Pres OrganThis is a question I’ve come to expect from other Christians. It is the first question I was asked after I began attending services at a Presbyterian church because I was attracted by the beautiful old brick building and the kindness of the pastor, a man whose child I taught.

Wounded by a religious community in which men wielded power and women were forbidden from speaking in services, I found the rituals and the quiet time to think in my new church comforting. Continue reading Misunderstandings about Your Religion? (Part 1)